Author’s Note: Still not sure what to call this but the first one sure got a few views!
Last time, as we ended, our core group of heroes (Durwin, Adran, Stars on Black Velvet and Matty) had just helped to defeat a troll in the Yawning Portal Tavern. Their heroics had caught the eye of Volo Geddarm, world famous writer and traveler. Volo has a favor to ask of his new favorite quartet. It seems that his friend, Floon Blagmaar went missing after the pair were out drinking the other night. Volo is fretting because while Floon can handle himself, the duo were drinking in a bad part of town. Given the constant news about violence in the streets, Volo fears for his friend’s life.
First off, the group is immediately suspicious. What kind of a name is Floon? It’s gotta be fake. Secondly, our budding adventurers are curious about the payment. 100 gold coins? That’s practically more money than any of them have seen in one place (except Adran, maybe). A few Insight checks reveal Volo’s concern for his friend is genuine. Plus, even half of that reward would be a substantial windfall so the group agrees to take the case. Volo gives them a brief description of his friend: he’s human, handsome, and red-headed.
Volo last saw him when the pair of them were drinking at a disreputable establishment called The Skewered Dragon. And we’re off! But not quite. As the players turn a corner on their hike to the Dock Ward, they find the aftermath of a bloody street fight. The City Watch has cordoned off the area. It’s clear from even a cursory glance that there are bodies in the street. This encounter exists to color the world. The party leaves the scene with a better idea of how dangerous the streets are.
The Dock Ward is one of the seedier parts of Waterdeep, and why shouldn’t it be otherwise. The city of Waterdeep began as a haven for pirates and cutthroats along the Sword Coast of Faerûn. Since then, the city has been on a long and winding road to respectability. The Skewered Dragon is like a poster child for the entire Dock Ward. The drinks are cheap, the decour is rough and the clientele is doubly so. Apparently our young Mr. Blagmaar wanted to see the dangerous side of Waterdeep. He probably got more than he bargained for.
As the party make their way to the Skewered Dragon, a shop across the street catches their eye. The Old Xoblob shop is a quaint cabinet of curiosities with the eye-catch of a stuffed Beholder in the window. The players decide to peak inside to explore and maybe see if they can glean any information. The shop’s proprietor is an eccentric gnome with the same name as his shop. He’s more than happy to have customers but he’s wary about sharing any information he knows…but he clearly knows something. Luckily, Velvet is able to discern that there’s one thing any good shopkeeper can’t resist: haggling.
Furthermore, Xoblob is also bit of a “mark,” for any sharp character who can figure out the “secret theme,” of his shop. A halfway decent Perception check from Velvet clues her into the trick, the gnome loves the color purple (Durwin isn’t so luckily due to a failed Intimidation check). Velvet is able to flourish her own purple cloak to get Xoblob’s attention. Then, she buys a bauble off the old gnome to earn his trust. The group’s reward? An earring and some juicy gossip. Xoblob can’t tell our group their names, but he did see a pair of humans accosted the other night. And in a shocking twist, they both look like their man Floon.
The group thanks Xoblob for the information and jewelry before heading over to The Skewered Dragon. Inside, the crew purchases some information from a table of salty regulars for the price of a round of drinks. Volo, and Floon were there but they weren’t alone. Floon wasn’t alone. Another young nobleman joined him after Volo left. Soon, thoroughly sloshed, the pair stumbled out into the Watdavian night. They were then promptly set upon by a group of thugs. While the regulars can’t (or aren’t willing to) identify the attackers, they do let slip two key pieces of information. The attackers all had winged snake tattoos. What’s more, they were headed towards Candle Lane, a particularly grimy and vile street. Good riddance though, say the regulars. They didn’t know Floon by name but the other one was the spawn of that blasted tyrant, Dagult Neverember…
As an aside, Waterdeep has never been ruled by a king. It was founded by outlaws, escaping traditional royals. In the modern era, Waterdeep is ruled via the Lord System. It’s essentially a bicameral autocratic model of government. The administration of the city is overseen by the Masked Lords of Waterdeep. The Lords are a council of roughly twenty citizens of the city.
True to their names, the Masked Lords remain anonymous during their tenure. Though it’s generally assumed that they are either noblemen or high-ranking members of the merchant caste. Meanwhile, diplomacy and other executive politics are handled by the Open Lord. The Open Lord is the one member of the Council of Lords who serves as a face for the city. Laurel Silverhand is the current Open Lord. The people cheer her name. A large part of that is because she only took the position after ousting her predecessor, the aforementioned Dagult Neverember. Dagult was neither an evil man nor a foolish man but he was greedy and petty. His tenure is not remembered fondly by the commoners…
…Anyway, it seems that the former Open Lord has a hitherto unmentioned son. With this revelation, the events of the previous night begin to take shape. Floon and the Neverember boy got fall down drunk together and were kidnapped by some local criminals. Given their similarities in appearance, the kidnappers probably just shrugged and thanked the gods they brought two sacks. At first, the party is willing to call it there. They were told to find out where Floon is and they have done so. But Adran, the moral compass of the fledgling team is unsatisfied. They need to rescue the young men no matter what! And besides, they have no proof of where precisely Floon is. Now where was it these men took their quarry? Candle Lane was it?
Candle Lane gets its name from the eerie darkness that shrouds the particularly poor street. The gang is far into the bowels of Waterdeep at this point. The street is almost entirely dark. Someone smashed most of the street lights, probably to get at the candles within. Only a single candlelit lamp at the far end of the street remains. A magic spell keeps the empty lantern glowing. After some bumbling in the dark, the group finally manages to stumble upon their target. They find a warehouse with the same Winged Snake symbol on the wall. The members of the party from Waterdeep rack their memories of what exactly that Winged Snake symbol means. They keep drawing blanks.
It’s newcomer Matty that identifies the snake as the symbol of the Zhentarim. The Zhents are one of the two sides in the city’s current blood feud. Of the two factions, the Zhentarim are the more traditional, bearing a strong resemblance to the real world mafia. The Zhentarim don’t actually see themselves as “the bad guy,” they’re more like…extremely pragmatic businessmen. Everything has a price to them and respect is everything. But once you’re a member of the Black Network, you’re family. The Zhents operate several legitimate business ventures up and down the Sword Coast. That said, they definitely wouldn’t be above a little bit of kidnapping and ransoming.
A closer examination of the warehouse reveals that it’s not in the best shape. Someone boarded up the windows and smashed the locks. What’s more, a lot of this damage has been recent implying that something has happened here. Not sure of how to approach, most of the party agree to use caution. But caution might be a foreign tongue to Velvet. Confidently she stride up to the door and knocks.
Now, allow me another brief digression to explain how Dungeons and Dragons deals with the traits of player characters. Everything about the makeup of a DnD character is quantified. Most of their merits can be traced back to the six core traits. They are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Numerically, the absolute average value for any given statistic is 10. Ten is the baseline.
So a Fighter with the highest possible natural Strength score of 18 is on the level of an Olympic bodybuilder. In contrast, Velvet, our dear Tabaxi friend has an intelligence score of 6. I love that the player decided to go with this. Characters with comically low traits are often both fun and a challenge to play. They also provide a genuine sense of risk to the proceedings. Such as is happening now…
At the sound of the knocking, the group hears a rustling, and what sounds like a loud squawk and scrambling. The group sits outside, a bit confused, before shrugging their shoulders and creeping inside. What they find is a veritable abattoir, with the presumed kidnappers dead on the floor. The group barely has time to process this discovery before they’re ambushed by a quartet of large bird men. These would be kenku, reimagined from Japanese mythology into sword-wielding crow-men. The kenku are relentless in their attack, pressing their advantage as they scramble over the piles of discarded furniture.
The fight…does not go well. Part of that is due to simple bad luck on the part of the party. The kenku rolled really well on both attacks and damage. In fact, they managed to take most of the party out in one round. That said, as the GM, I was the one who decided to give the Kenku their ambush round. So the blame for this disasterous encounter is partially on me. On the other hand though, the book is extremely vague about the situation.
The party will soon learn that the birds are agents of the Xanthar Guild. They were searching the area for something when the party interrupted them. Afterwards, I went over the scenario with my players. We realized that the designers had only accounted for one scenario. They’d assumed the players would always have the jump on the bird-men. This makes some sense. Mechanically, as enemies the kenku are glass cannons. They’ve got highly accurate sword attacks and can deal a whole lot of damage. To balance their skill, Kenku about as durable as a Popsicle. So consider this my first real complaint about the campaign. I understand that the designers can’t account for every conceivable approach to the scenario. But I’ll take a few lines of direction over a non-committal shrug any day of the week.
Either way, Durwin manages to brain one of the overgrown crows with his flail and that particular assailant goes down. The others are not so lucky and soon Durwin is facing down a three on one disadvantage. Luckily for him, serendipity came to the rescue. A company of the City Guard storm the warehouse. The kenku make a break for it, shouting something about grabbing the hostage they found. (It’s worth noting, kenku can’t actually produce original dialogue, so the group only hears a chorus of mimicked voices). While several guardsmen tend to the downed party members, Durwin is able to cobble together a story about doing their civic duty and looking for a missing person.
At this point, a nobleman with a mane of red hair appears with a forlorn cough. The young man introduces himself as Renear Neverember, the above mentioned son of the old Open Lord. Renear had, until recently been bound and gagged in a closet near the back of the warehouse. He’s not sure what happened to Floon but the group fills him in. The sergeant leading the company of the guard promises that the guard will take care of it. The guardsmen begin to fan out, looking for the escaped guilders.
Renear thanks the party and apologizes for the trouble he’s caused. The former prince believes that he was kidnapped because of a long held rumor. People still believe Renear’s father hid thousands of gold coins somewhere in the city. The young man has been doing his best to escape the shadow of his father by becoming the world’s richest couch surfer. He gets on by mostly relying on friends and refusing any support from his family name. He’s also been keen to shun almost any sense of responsibility. The city isn’t ready to trust another Neverember. But with a grimace, Renear picks up a rapier and dagger from a fallen kidnapper. Some poor soul was taken in his place and he’ll be damned if he won’t make things right.
I’ll end on this piece of personal growth and hope that you’ll join me for the next part of our adventure. Still to come: an unlikely mascot, dangers below the city and adventures in…real estate?
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